Eight tips on supporting someone with early dementia

Two men playing chess in a public games area

Each day, 250 Australians are diagnosed with dementia, however, recent studies have displayed that families struggle to discuss dementia and its effects on the mental and physical capacity of their loved ones. If someone in your family is exhibiting early signs of dementia, or your ageing client is experiencing a decline in capacity because of dementia, now is the time to start preparing for their future.

1. Spark a comfortable conversation
Conversations about dementia may be awkward or confronting for people who are experiencing a loss in memory and mental or physical capacity. However, by initiating a comfortable discussion about long-term lifestyle goals with the individual living with dementia, you can help them to plan ahead.

Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe recently revealed that “more than 60 per cent of [Australians] said they didn’t know what to say to someone with dementia, while more than 50 per cent said they were worried they wouldn’t be understood, that they would say the wrong thing or that they might hurt the feelings of a person living with dementia”.

However, effectively communicating with individuals living with dementia doesn’t have to be difficult. You can begin to communicate with them by:

  • remaining calm and patient during conversation,
  • keeping sentences short and simple,
  • and allowing plenty of time for them to understand what you’ve said.

2. Encourage mental and physical activity
The physical and mental capabilities of people experiencing early stages of dementia can differ greatly from person to person. If you’re a support worker providing personal care or social support to an individual with early dementia, you could organise activities that can directly impact residual skills, help stimulate the mind and promote self-esteem. Often, the most simple and calming activities are best – for example, visiting a local garden, a flower show or farm are relaxed activities that incorporate sensory experiences.

Physical activity is just as important as mental exercise, and it’s important to be wary of the physical capabilities of people experiencing early signs of dementia. If you know your client used to play a particular game or sport when they were younger, you may want to organise a day out with your client so they can experience their favourite pastime. Some other physical activities you may want to suggest are:

  • accompanying them on a short walk around the park,
  • gardening or maintaining their outdoor areas,
  • or visiting a gym to walk on a treadmill or use an exercise bike.

3. Keep in touch with their family
If you’re a support worker caring for a person exhibiting early signs of dementia, you may wish to take the time to reach out to your client’s next of kin or wider family. Over time, you may notice a gradual decline in your client’s capabilities, and keeping in touch with your client’s family is integral to helping your client reach their lifestyle goals. By communicating your client’s progression to their family you can help organise the support necessary for your client. A great way to keep up your connection with your client’s family is to host and cook a monthly meetup dinner with you, your client and their family – you can even suggest your client get involved in cooking the meal and organising the dinner to offer them a sense of responsibility.

If your client doesn’t have family or friends nearby and you think they might benefit from some extra in-home support, you can always connect to other support workers in your local area via an online platform like Mable. This way, you can organise respite for yourself and keep track of your client’s daily support and care.

4. Create a community network around your client
According to McCabe of Dementia Australia, “dementia can be one of the most profoundly isolating conditions, despite the fact it is impacting so many people”.

By reaching out to neighbours, close friends or community centres in the area, you can help to build a network of support around your client and even organise others to check in on your client on days where you might not be available. If your client used to be affiliated in their local football club or arts centre before being experiencing the effects of dementia, you could suggest them to keep up their connections and help them visit a place they know well. However, you should always check that your client and their family members are happy with this arrangement.

5. Take time to research the behavioural changes that come with dementia
Dementia is a multifaceted disease and the signs of dementia are extremely diverse. In its earlier stages, dementia can cause memory loss, confusion and difficulty in performing particular tasks. As it progresses, dementia can cause behavioural changes such as aggression, anxiety or agitation.

If you’re supporting someone who is experiencing a gradual decline in physical and mental capabilities as a result of dementia, you can read more about how to cope with aggressive, agitated, anxious, depression and disinhibited behaviours on Dementia Australia.

6. Adapt your methods of personal care
Dementia can come with challenging physical effects and can inhibit a person’s ability to carry out personal tasks such as eating, maintaining hygiene, sleeping and managing continence. You can learn more about how to adapt your methods of personal care in dental care, dressing, eating, hygiene and nutrition here.

7. Optimise your client’s home environment
To ensure your client or loved one can live independently and safely, you may wish to rethink their living arrangements. A safe and comfortable environment can be integral to ensuring better quality of life for people living with dementia, and by creating an environment that won’t overstimulate senses or provoke boredom.

If you’re a support worker, you may wish to suggest arranging furniture to ensure safety and ease of access or even organise with your client new furniture that is better-suited to their changing lifestyle. If you think your client or loved one would benefit from a more secure environment, you can always connect to an Occupational Therapist who specialises in optimising living arrangements on Mable.

8. Remember to care for yourself
Watching an individual experience the effects of dementia can be a stressful and challenging time for family, friends and the community. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for carers and family members to know when to take a break and receive respite.

You can begin to take a break from caring or supporting a person living with dementia by:

  • organising a schedule amongst your family to ensure your loved one is kept company at particular times,
  • or by connecting with quality support from independent workers in your local area by heading to Mable.

It’s important to remember that as a carer or support worker, you can also receive support. The National Dementia Helpline is available nationwide and can help you connect to local support services, receive emotional support and learn more about the effects of dementia. You can also head to Start 2 Talk which can help you to plan ahead for loved ones.

This blog was written with information from Dementia Australia

Are you seeking support for a member of your family? With Mable, you can directly connect, schedule and monitor support for your loved one. Head to Mable to search for support workers in your local area today.